— Education

When I Apologized To One Of My Students, She Was Stunned. That’s A Big Problem.

In the middle of my third year as a teacher of teens, I began to decipher the meanings of their curious behaviors. When 27 youth run out of your class like caged lions, finally let loose into the wild, and alone lioness lingers behind, you figure out: She has something she wants to say to you. Years ago, my conversation with a lingering student after the last bell rang still sat with me.

When I asked her if she had questions about the lesson I’d just taught, I was surprised when she said she understood everything, but, ”Miss, you said something, and I didn’t like it. … I don’t want to be disrespectful. Not sure what would follow, I hesitated but assured her I’d appreciate hearing what I’d said that offended her. I read her lowered eyes and the speeding up of her packing her book bag for what it was: I don’t trust that you’ll let me say what’s on my mind.


Sweetie, please tell me. It’s OK,” I said. “Tell me what I did that made you angry. The student explained that when she asked questions about how I planned to grade their big writing assignment, I joked that she was worried about her grade for no reason. She was getting anxious when she’d probably end up with another 95 or maybe even a 100. “I mean, I’m not that good in English, and I need to do lots of stuff in this class to get good grades, so I didn’t like when you said that. It made me feel … I don’t know … I didn’t like it. Miss, I know you were playing, but…” she said, again lowering her eyes.

She offered another curious behavior when I said I was sorry for dismissing her valid questions about the assignment. It would take at least another dozen apologies to other students before I could decipher the reaction she gave me that day. She just stood still, looking stunned. She had no response to my “I’m so sorry I made you feel that way. I promise to be more aware of how my jokes could impact students.”

Her stunned silence would replicate itself over the years in other students. It was the same disbelief I’d get each time I apologized for speaking too harshly to a student or treating them like they were inferior to me simply because they were a child and I was an adult. I’d eventually recognize the awkward feeling of a student knowing they were right: The teacher shouldn’t have treated them this way, but they were confused that this adult in a position of authority was admitting it was her mistake and not theirs.

Katie Axon

After leaving the corporate world to pursue my dreams, I started writing because it helped me organize and express myself. It also allowed me to connect with people who share my passion for art, travel, fashion, technology, health, and food. I currently write on vexsh, a site focused on sharing and discovering what it means to be a creative, passionate person living in today's digital age.

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